Nearly 500 POWs Handed Over to Iraq, One Refuses to Leave
DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ The Red Cross handed over 499 prisoners of war to Iraqi officials today after a four-day delay that a Western source attributed to chaos in Iraq.
A 500th POW at the last minute refused repatriation. ″Some people, for personal reasons, don’t want to go back,″ said Pascal Daudin, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Riyadh.
Daudin said that just before the 12 Red Cross-chartered buses were to drive into Iraq with the POWs, the prisoner refused to return.
There has been concern that thousands of the 60,000 Iraqis captured by the allies might refuse repatriation for fear of retaliation by their government.
The handover took place late this morning at the Saudi-Iraq border near the Saudi desert town of Arar, 650 miles northwest of Dhahran, he said. The Red Cross rented a dozen Jordanian buses to take the prisoners home.
Another group of 500 Iraqi POWs could be taken back to their homeland ″in the coming days,″ although details have not yet been worked out, he said.
The repatriation had been planned for four days ago, but Iraqi officials had told the Red Cross they were delaying the POWs’ return to clear mines from roads in the area of the handover.
A Western source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said chaos in Iraq had stalled the POWs return. Several cities are engulfed in fighting between anti-government rebels and soldiers loyal to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Before being driven to the Arar border area, the 500 prisoners were questioned and all said they wanted to go home, Daudin said. But once they reached the frontier, one prisoner changed his mind, he said.
The prisoner was taken back to a Saudi POW camp, Daudin said.
On Wednesday, Iraq handed over the remains of 13 allied soldiers killed in the war - five Americans and eight Britons. Forty-five allied POWs - all that Iraq said it had in custody - have been repatriated, including 21 Americans.
The return of allied remains and repatriation of POWs were two conditions for a permanent cease-fire spelled out by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. forces commander, in a March 3 meeting with Iraqi officers.
About 900 Iraqi POWs had earlier been repatriated.
In Geneva, an International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman said he expects another 1,000 Iraq prisoners to be sent home in the next week.
Allied and Iraqi officials are to meet again under Red Cross sponsorship Thursday to discuss further repatriations, said the spokesman, Peter Fluege.